Obituary: David Alexander
David Alexander: A life committed to supporting others
Emeritus Professor David Alexander was an instrumental figure at Hostage International, where from its founding days he was a key volunteer advisor and member of the charity’s mental health panel, until his death this month.
David’s expertise in mental health was built throughout his career spanning more than 30 years. He brought his experience to the fore in Hostage International where he provided pro-bono support on even the most complex and time-consuming cases.
His exceptional insight into the impact of kidnapping on hostages and their families grew throughout his life; starting from his education at the universities of St Andrews, Dundee and Aberdeen, after which he trained in advanced forensic psychiatry at Birmingham University. He went on to undertake training in police advanced techniques in relation to stress management, and later hostage negotiation at the FBI Academy.
Throughout his career David worked tirelessly to support people and communities in the UK and across the world and was sought out for his expertise at many major incidents.
In 1988, in his home country of Scotland, he played a full part in the response to the Piper Alpha oil rig disaster.
Further afield, his work in Pakistan following the 2005 earthquake led to him receiving a humanitarian award from the Scottish Government. His work with the Pakistan military around ‘de-radicalisation’ led to his being made an Honorary Professor at Pakistan’s National University of Sciences and Technology; and he continued to travel to Pakistan frequently as an advisor and trainer.
He also advised on trauma management in South Africa, where he held the position of Distinguished Trauma Visitor.
At home in Aberdeen, David was Emeritus Professor of Mental Health at the Robert Gordon University and was a former senior consultant at the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. He worked with the Scottish Police for more than 20 years and was a principal advisor to UK police services.
He first met our co-founder Terry Waite CBE some years before the birth of Hostage UK, as it then was. With his background in trauma and hostage negotiation, his deep compassion for others and a constant desire to help, he was an immediate supporter of the charity’s cause. From its very foundation, he gave his time and energy selflessly, going out of his way to help families in need of support during and after a kidnapping.
David offered a view of the world that was novel, wise, enlightening and often humorous. He took enormous interest in others and was a keen observer, while at the same time being unafraid to voice his strong opinions, saying, “I refuse to get splinters in my bottom by sitting on the fence!”
David was a stickler for detail in all aspects of life; involved in the Royal Army Medical Corps, he clearly enjoyed some of the more formal aspects of Army and Royal Marines tradition. After attending a Royal Marines Beating Retreat ceremony recently he wrote, “The Beating Retreat was wonderful, conducted as it was by the drummers of Royal Marines Band in their striking No1 Dress uniforms. I always get a frisson on such occasions.” With his humour coming through, and still involved with the military, he recently complained bitterly that his uniform had ‘shrunk’ in recent years although he claimed to have inserted elastic sides.
David loved cricket and rugby and enjoyed sharing his detailed commentary on televised matches with friends watching the same match on TV at the other end of the UK.
Above all, his priority was checking in with others and ensuring they were well and ‘taking proper care of themselves’. This is the legacy he has left us; an amazing dedication to the empowerment of others through building resilience and self-care.
Hostage International remains indebted to his teaching and guidance and to his incredible generosity and compassion. He will be very much missed.